Council CEO: Mothball Northland Rail Line


The CEO of the Whangarei District Council is to propose the mothballing of the Northland Rail Line.
He will argue that only the construction of a Marsden Pt rail link would drive the retention of rail in Northland and no-one including KiwiRail and the Government is putting up their hand to pay for it.

CEO Mark Simpson will make the proposal at the Council’s meeting on Wednesday.

He says: “Given the realities of the national economy and the heavy investment in rebuilding Christchurch post-earthquake, Northland is not going to attract central government investment in both rail and road transport.”
Mr Simpson says Northland local bodies are united in the stance that shortening road travel times between Northland and Auckland is their leading concern for the economic and other benefits of the region and support the Government’s Puhoi to Wellsford roading proposal.
“Rail supports some 20 jobs in Northland, not all of which would be lost by mothballing, as the line would still need to be maintained during its period of inactivity,” Mr Simpson said.
“The cessation of rail operations would mean an average extra 30 heavy vehicle movements per day on SH1 through Whangarei, which is not significant. There would be an average extra 23 heavy vehicle movements per day on Portland Road, which currently averages a minimum 260 daily heavy vehicle movements in the carting of logs, woodchip, limestone, cement and coal.”

Mothballing not closing line
His resolution for the Council will be that should the decision be made to cease rail services in Northland, the Council supports a mothballing period for the Northland line “to give breathing space for the potential emergence of economic factors which may determine the future viability of the line, and while issues such as port rationalisation. ”
He argues that port rationalisation remains the most likely driver of construction of a Marsden Pt rail link, and only a Marsden Pt rail link would drive the retention of rail in Northland.
Such a link would cost $120 million. But the problem is: who will pay? Mr Simpson says that KiwiRail’s position is that it would welcome the link, but it will not be the funder. Current central government transport policies rule it out as funder, also.
Currently some 1.36 million tonnes of logs make up Northport’s total cargo volume of 2 million tonnes. It has been estimated up to 25 percent of logs, or 340,000 tonnes, would be carried by rail if a link existed.
He said that other general cargo including woodchip, cement, gypsum and coal, could be carried internally by rail – but this cargo travels either to or from nearby Portland, a distance of less than 20km, over which rail is not economical.The potential 340,000 tonnes of logs would not show an adequate return on the necessary $120 million investment. Based on the NRC report’s figures, income from logs would be around $6.8 million, with up to
$5 million of this taken for maintenance not currently funded by Northland operations.

“Hard” to justify cost of Marsden link
Only significantly increased volumes of cargo across the wharves will justify the building of the Marsden Pt rail link, and the only predictable source of this would be the diversion of cargo currently landed at Auckland. Without Auckland cargo, Northport will remain a relatively low value predominantly forestry port. This introduces the need for the rationalisation of the three upper-North Island ports.
“At present, the three ports are driven by regional interests as a result of local government ownership. Tauranga and Auckland, especially, have competed with each other to the enormous benefit of the shipping companies. Many millions of dollars have been invested in the doubling up of infrastructure.
“In the national interest, the three Regions need to drive a rationalisation of activities at the three ports, leaving, say, Tauranga to maximise returns on its proven efficiency as a container port, with Auckland downsizing to be a container port serving mainly the Auckland market. Northport acknowledges an exercise would need to be done, but potentially Marsden Pt and Auckland could act as feeder container ports, utilising coastal shipping to the Tauranga hub. Marsden Pt is unlikely to ever handle significant container traffic. ”
He says that Marsden Pt could receive the 300,000 tonnes of gypsum currently landed at Auckland from South Australia, and also the 110,000 cars landed at Auckland. There is sufficient land in port corporation ownership to cater for the landing of vehicles.

Auckland a key

He said that Auckland would be left with its container traffic on smaller ships and with its tourism shipping – economically important, as each of the current 62 calls a year by cruise ships is worth $1 million in direct economic benefit. Auckland can accommodate ship draughts of 12.5m. The largest cruise ships have draughts of 9.3m, Queen Mary 2’s is 10.1m, and the Sun Class ships using Auckland have draughts of 8.1m.

“Auckland may not have to dredge under rationalisation, a huge saving to the ratepayers of Auckland and of benefit to the environment. The people of Auckland will eventually push for their waterfront back as part of the lifestyle of city living beside the sea. This sort of thing is happening around the world. The development of the waterfront will also support Auckland’s aim to be a truly international city and a destination in its own right.

The downside of port operations such as noise, traffic and other issues would be shifted elsewhere.


“Only port rationalisation will see regional and national resources most economically invested in our ports, but given the ownership mix of the three ports – one wholly local government-owned, the other two listed companies – this will take high-level political debate to achieve.”

Puhoi roading link the priority
The CEO says the council and Northland’s other three local bodies should, through the Northland Mayoral Forum, maintain the stance that shortening road travel times between Northland and Auckland is our leading concern for the economic and other benefits which accrue from it, not the least of which are encouraging industrial investment in the region and improving Northlanders’ access to health treatments only available in Auckland.
“Support for road versus rail should not be construed, however, as Northland local government dismissing rail as having any role in the region’s future transport systems. While rail’s prospects are not rosy in the short-term, the Northland Mayoral Forum should engage with
Auckland and Bay of Plenty Councils to discuss port rationalisation. Rationalisation could mean Auckland unlocking the economic potential of its waterfront, and Northland gaining a more profitable port and justification for maintaining rail services in the medium to long term, for
the benefit of the country and the ratepayers of the upper North Island.
“With rail in Northland presently not viable and its needed investment ruled out, WDC and the other Northland local bodies should support the line’s mothballing, as opposed to closure, while decisions are made surrounding port rationalisation and to allow time for the other potential factors mentioned above to emerge,” he says.

A report to the council from the Council’s Growth & Infrastructure Manager, Vaughan Cooper, continues the support for the Puhoi highway.
“The project has been termed the Holiday Highway by those who do not support it but it has a very clear economic development focus from the Government’s point of view - the project is about economic development and growth between Auckland and Northland (particularly Whangarei/Marsden Point).
“Whilst the construction is focused on construction of a new route from Puhoi (the northern end of the tunnels) to north of Wellsford, the project includes a strategic assessment of the entire route north and consideration of key areas such as Te-Hana and the Brynderwyns.”

Wednesday’s meeting will also consider tourism for the Northland region and be given this projection of traffic flows this year from Auckland to Northland.

: Road passenger movements north from Auckland (2011 forecast)

The tourism report says this shows that the overall volume of all traffic and passenger movements declines the further north of Auckland you go. One variation comes at Wellsford where traffic from the main alternative route to and from Auckland (State Highway 16) feeds in to State Highway 1, but the overall pattern is one of decline in number. However, the pattern is different for overseas travellers.
Further to the North, the proportion of overseas traffic and passengers increases. Around 20% of those going north from Whangarei comprise overseas travellers. The volume of overseas travellers declines only around 4 percent between the Waipu - Whangarei and Whangarei – Kawakawa road
sections, while the corresponding volume of domestic visitors declines by almost 30%.




  1. rtc says:

    Sounds suspiously iike the council has been under pressure from Joyce behind the scenes to make this public statement, leaving the ministry to follow through on what it’s been threatening…

  2. Matt L says:

    I have never heard of a official from any region advocating against themselves. This guy really is an idiot.

  3. Kurt says:

    What Mark Simpson is almost word for word what I would expect a member of this government to say.

    In other words Northland isn’t worth the investment.

    Its not too hard to picture where his political aspirations lie.

  4. BD says:

    Northland isn’t worth the investment, holiday highway isn’t worth the investment either. The motorway is a complete waste of money it ends at Wellsford a considerable distance away from Whangarei the main population centre, and Mark Simpsons thinks its worth it. What planet is he from.

    The Northland railway line has suffered from years of neglect and could be upgraded easily for a fraction of the cost not to mention the existing SH1 could be upgraded cheaper as well.

    With the upgrading of SH1 north of Puhoi you could have enough money to upgrade the whole stretch of highway up tp Whangarei, but the useless national government is determined to throw good money away on white elephants. I’ve heard people saying that the new toll road that bypass Orewa has actually made congestion even worse.

    So the only solution to the problem is to either vote National out of office, which I can’t see happening, sorry.

    I’m a bit lost on this comment

    “Northland is not going to attract central government investment in both rail and road transport” so why is Holiday Highway being supported then if that’s the case.

    Seems to me like they are wasting good money for no reason! You’ve answered your own question Mr Simpson this clearly speaks for itself why change your mind?

    Mr Simpson says Northland local bodies are united in the stance that shortening road travel times between Northland and Auckland is their leading concern for the economic and other benefits of the region and support the Government’s Puhoi to Wellsford roading proposal.

  5. Robincole says:

    I guess Mr Simpson figures its either the railway or the holiday highway, but not both.A flash new highway looks a lot more sexy than a railway line unfortunately.

  6. BD says:

    There supporting this because they feel that this is the only deal that the government is offering them for Northland. As the government won’t help fund the Northland Railway line. Kiwi Rail aren’t to blame either as they have enough problems to sort out and the goverment is not offering them any assistance.

    For the sake of 10 mins shaved off travel time, even if the highway only stops at Wellsford, the leaders think its better than nothing. I think this is stupid and the government should be doing more.

  7. Finn says:

    If their going to mothball the line then someone should open a vintage railway on it with steam trains and everything.

  8. I think the council is taking the “as long as we don’t have to pay for it we will support it” approach. But I think they will end up paying for it - those extra 30 truck movements a day are going to be the heaviest trucks ever seen on the roads and will damage to the local roads as well. You would hope they have thought of this.

  9. Gibbo says:

    Sounds like his council is under same pressure from Govt (NZTA) as Wellington is - ‘either support road investment as we (govt) dictate or we spend it elsewhere’.

  10. Luke C says:

    pathetic response from the Council CEO.
    The CEO should note Northland is not getting any govt investment in road OR rail transport.
    Is all being spend on RONS which are ‘nice to have’ but which will make negligible difference to Northlands economic performance. The are not even in Northland itself so will not benefit from construction.

  11. Robincole says:

    A considerable amount of work has been done on the Northland line in the last few years.A number of bridges have been replaced, some of them quite significant bridges.The Government could invest an extra few million dollars each year to gradually upgrade the line.Theres no real need to spend $100m all in one hit.

  12. Patrick R says:

    This is all about Puford. Joyce spreadin’ the love.


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